Living with a disability is a challenge, but adapting your home can ease the burden and help you live independently. How extensively you would have to renovate varies widely based on a homeowner’s needs and a house’s age and condition. You could install a taller toilet for a few hundred dollars, or spend thousands of dollars on a walk-in shower or an elevator.
The good news is a rapidly aging population means more products are available to accommodate disabilities, and a growing number of contractors, mortgage brokers and real estate agents are familiar with what’s needed. But renovating a house can be expensive and funding bigger remodeling projects can be challenging for many. Below you will find an overview of how much some types of renovations cost, tips on where to find help to pay for remodeling projects and expert advice about what types of projects make sense. Those who don’t want to deal with renovations or find the task is beyond their economic means can still find help to live independently through other resources such as rental assistance in homes designed for people with disabilities.
Build a door ramp: $1,547
Install an elevator or chairlift: $5,755
Repair an elevator or chairlift: $245
General remodel for disability accommodation: $6,017
Repair a wheelchair ramp: $662
Source: Averages provided by HomeAdvisor
Funding Home Repairs For Independent Living
In the best-case scenario, a homeowner with an age-related disability can tap into long-term care insurance to pay for renovations. The policies often cover the costs of adapting a house for a disability. Many homeowners aren’t that fortunate, however. Unemployment rates for disabled workers are sky-high, and poverty and disability can go hand in hand. Luckily, there is help.
Getting Help From a Non-Profit
One source of assistance comes from non-profits such as Rebuilding Together, a nationwide organization whose volunteers help homeowners upgrade their abodes. Rebuilding Together works with dozens of affiliated organizations nationwide to complete some 10,000 projects a year. Since Rebuilding Together helps low-income homeowners, you typically must fall under income guidelines that vary depending on where you live. For example, in Berkeley, California, Rebuilding Together helps applicants who are 62 and older or have a certified disability and whose income is no more than $71,600 per year in a four-member household. In West Palm Beach, Florida, annual household income can’t exceed $40,950 for a family of four.
Other sources of information and aid include:
The National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification Headquartered at the University of Southern California, the center aims to encourage aging in place and promote home modifications. The National Resource Center provides training and education, technical help and an information clearinghouse.
Local Independent Living Center Affiliates This is a directory of independent living centers, compiled by Independent Living Research Utilization Program, a non-profit organization. The directory lists centers that train people with disabilities to live independently and where 51 percent of both the staff and the board of directors have disabilities.
Local Easter Seals chapters Easter Seals and real estate brokerage Century 21 launched the Easy Access for Easier Living Program, which includes educational brochures, resources and tips for making a home accessible.
Getting a Mortgage for Improvements
Tight lending standards of recent years haven’t been kind to borrowers with disabilities, who often need a bit of flexibility from lenders. Still, there are programs that can help borrowers with disabilities land mortgages or take out smaller loans:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program offers loans of up to $20,000 and grants of up to $7,500 to low-income homeowners in rural areas who need to renovate. To qualify, you must have family income below 50 percent of your area’s median income. The interest rate is capped at 1 percent. Grants are available only to homeowners who are 62 or older. Younger borrowers are eligible only for loans. To apply, contact your state office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A state-by-state list is available on the USDA’s website. To find lenders in your area who specialize in USDA loans click here.
Digital Federal Credit Union of Massachusetts makes loans of up to $2,500 for products and modifications for people with disabilities. Approved uses for the loans include wheelchairs, specialized beds, rehabilitative equipment, elevators and ramps. Rates range from 7.1 percent for three-year loans to 8.85 percent for six years.
Reverse mortgages let homeowners who are 62 or older tap into the equity in their homes. More than three-quarters of Americans in this age group own their homes, giving them a source of untapped assets. Be careful, though – fees related to reverse mortgages are extremely high compared to traditional mortgages and are rolled into the loan. Further, the loan becomes due if you are out of the house for a year or more. Your equity in the home also will likely decrease, which would leave less in your estate for heirs. And, make sure you have cash for insurance and property taxes because you could face foreclosure if you can’t cover housing costs. But if you plan to live in your house a long time, a reverse mortgage may make sense for you. Borrowing gradually against your home equity can help pay for renovations. To get started, contact a HUD-approved mortgage counselor.
Fannie Mae and the FHA offer renovation loans to homeowners and buyers. They are not specifically designed for borrowers with disabilities but can be used for necessary adaptations. Fannie’s HomeStyle program is available for buyers who want to get money to buy and renovate a home in one loan or to those who want to refinance their home loans and get cash back for renovations. The FHA’s 203(k) renovation loan is similar to Fannie’s but has more flexible qualification requirements. Fannie Mae used to offer a program called Community HomeChoice program. It was designed to help low- to moderate-income borrowers with disabilities qualify for mortgages by offering low down payments and flexible underwriting standards but the program ended in December of 2015.
IRS Deductions for Home Improvements Related to Disabilities
Living with a disability is costly, but the Internal Revenue Service offers a tax break for medical expenses, which can include the costs of living with a disability. You can deduct only the amount of medical expenses that exceeds 10 percent of your adjusted gross income, or 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income if you’re 65 or older. Among the items the IRS allows you to write off are artificial limbs, eyeglasses, hearing aids, guide dogs, phone equipment for people with hearing impairments, long-term care insurance premiums and Braille books (but only the part of the cost that exceeds the regular printed version).
offers specific guidelines for the heights of sinks and toilets and the widths of doorways and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs.
created a 30-minute video with tips for eating, dressing, bathing and home renovations.
recommends raising seats, beds and toilets and adjusting lighting to accommodate people with multiple sclerosis.
says children with cerebral palsy need homes with 42-inch hallways and U-shaped or L-shaped kitchens to accommodate wheelchairs.
says bright lights, vibrant colors and loud noises can prove distracting for children with autism.
Assistive Technology Funding
Assistive technology is a catchall phrase to describe devices or software that can help people with learning disabilities or physical frailties. Wheelchairs, walkers and prosthetic limbs are common examples of assistive technology, but product offerings have multiplied in recent years to include a number of computer-related technologies, including screen readers and talking calculators.
Who pays for this equipment? That depends. If a doctor prescribes a piece of assistive technology, your health insurance might cover part or all of the cost. Schools provide some assistive technology necessary for a student to learn, and employers might pay for devices needed by their employees. Some non-profit organizations , such as California Assistive Technology Reuse Coalition and Ability Tools, have created marketplaces for people with disabilities to buy or borrow used and free devices. Others give equipment to disabled people for free. For instance, ComputerBanc provides free computers to Illinois residents with disabilities. Meanwhile, the San Diego Assistive Technology Center helps people learn about devices and allows them to borrow devices for a trial period. The Assistive Technology Industry Association has compiled a comprehensive list of private and public sources of funding for assistive technology.
Help for Disabled Veterans
For wounded warriors, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers numerous programs to encourage independent living. The VA’s mortgage program offers special benefits to injured soldiers, waiving the minimum length of service required to qualify for a VA loan. The VA also has grant programs. The Specially Adapted Housing Grant provides up to $73,768 in 2016 for veterans who have lost legs or arms, have been blinded or have suffered severe burns, while the Special Housing Adaptation grant is worth up to $14,754 in 2016. Both programs can be used to pay for renovations, or to buy or build a house. The VA also offers the Home Improvements and Structural Alterations grant, which is worth up to $6,800. It can be used to lower sinks and counters, build entrance ramps and other improvements. You can find more information about mortgage benefits for veterans here.
Aging in Place: An Expert’s View on What to Modify
Aging-in-place specialist Susan Luxenberg is founder and president of HomeSmart LLC and author of Fearless Remodeling. She spoke to MoneyGeek.com about trends in remodeling.
What are some of the most common remodeling projects you see?
Everyone focuses on the bathroom and the kitchen. The most common bathroom projects involve removing a stand-up tub and replacing it with a walk-in shower. Second is installing a comfort-height toilet. The typical toilet is 14 or 15 inches off the floor. The comfort-height toilet is 17 inches off the floor. The higher toilet makes it easier for people with back problems, knee problems or balance issues. Another common improvement is widening the doorway to make it easier for people to get in.
How much can a homeowner expect to spend?
It really depends. Comfort-height toilets are very inexpensive. You can find them for under $200. The plumbing doesn’t change, and for $200, you’ve created a much more comfortable and safe situation. We can completely modify a small bathroom in the five-by-eight range for $15,000. We can change the tub, swap the toilet. But bathroom projects can get very expensive. If you want high-quality designer finishes, you can spend $25,000.
For kitchens, there are a lot of accessories that can be installed without major construction – pop-up shelves, roll-out shelves, lazy Susan cabinets. People also swap their old appliances for appliances that are friendlier, such as refrigerators that have drawer freezers, or ranges that have the controls on the front of the appliance so you don’t have to reach across the burners. Anything where someone isn’t reaching, bending or stretching is really a good investment.
How do homeowners pay for these repairs?
Unfortunately, disabilities are very costly. There’s just no way around it. Health insurance does not pay for renovations. For families with children, they’re really forced to come up with private funds, perhaps by borrowing against home equity. For seniors, long-term care insurance is a great resource. Almost every long-term care policy has money that can be used for modifying a home for safety. Seniors also can use reverse mortgages.
What’s the biggest challenge homeowners face when renovating their properties?
One challenge is denial. People with age-related disabilities don’t recognize when is the right time to do this. If they did earlier, it would probably be less costly. If you plan ahead, you have the luxury of time. But many people don’t face the reality, and then they’re up against the wall. The second thing is people operate under the misimpression that if you adapt your home, you’re going to decrease your home value. That’s absolutely not true.
What are the latest trends in retrofitting houses?
With 78 million baby boomers in retirement or starting the retirement process, designers have taken note. Adapting a home does not mean turning a home into a hospital space. Adapting a home is nothing more than removing barriers. Most homes are not designed for any type of frailty. We take these spaces and modify them so they suit our needs, and we can create a home that’s very lovely. The new appliances are fabulous. There are automatic door openers for sliding doors and entrance doors.
Natural, non-slick tile is now available commercially. You can find shower grab bars in every kind of finish. They no longer look like those chunky, stainless steel grab bars you used to have. It doesn’t matter if you’re 12 or 92, a shower floor is slippery. A shower grab bar can make a house look like a home. It doesn’t have to be institutional. And instead of building a ramp at the entrance, we can work with the landscaping to create an entrance that doesn’t require steps.
Independent Living for Renters
With poverty levels high for disabled Americans, many find home ownership out of reach, so they remain renters.
Disabled renters are protected by the Federal Housing Act, which requires landlords to make “reasonable modifications” for tenants with disabilities. This is defined as an upgrade that would provide basic conveniences for a disabled tenant. For instance, the law could require a landlord to install a ramp, lower the entry threshold, install grab bars in the bathroom or accommodate an assistance animal, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But landlords can refuse accommodations that require “undue financial and administrative burden.”
The U.S. public housing system aims to help people with disabilities find shelter, and HUD offers “certain developments” vouchers for renters with disabilities. The vouchers let a non-elderly person with a disability receive housing assistance in communities normally reserved for elderly families. To apply, contact your local public housing authority.
Some states also offer rent assistance. Massachusetts, for instance, offers an Alternative Housing Voucher Program for people with disabilities. This state program is for non-elderly people. Tenants pay 25 percent or 30 percent of their income to the landlord, and the local housing authority pays the rest. People with disabilities can apply at a local housing agency.
Assisted Living Facilities
As the U.S. population ages, assisted living facilities have boomed in popularity. At these group homes, residents typically live in a private apartment or room. The facilities’ services include meals, group activities and transportation, and some offer special programs for specific disabilities such as Alzheimer’s disease. Assisted living facilities also have multiplied for young adults with disabilities. They’re an option if you’d rather not renovate your home, or if a young person craves the independence that comes with moving out of a family’s home.
Assisted living can be expensive, but insurance may cover some of the cost. AssistedLivingFacilities.org provides a guide for choosing an assisted living facility. Among the obvious considerations are the cleanliness of the facility and the professionalism of the staff. To get a feel for the facility, visit unannounced. Should the facility be close to family? That depends. In some cases, people with mental illness respond better if they’re far from home because they are freer to find themselves and develop new relationships, which can open the door to growth and recovery.